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Why do we have the books that we do? How did we acquire them? Why did we acquire them? What thoughts do they provoke? In this post I’ll be going through the books that I read in 2014 and attempt to answer these questions.

Cat in a Golden Garland by Carole Nelson Douglas
Back when my husband and I were dating, lo about 10 years ago or more, one weekend we visited his local library. I don’t remember why we were there, if we even had a specific purpose. But I do know that they had an ongoing book sale. Now, I’m not the type to pass by a book sale and not look. Ok. I look, then end up buying two or more books. This day I bought Cat on a Leopard Spot by Carole Nelson Douglas and a Cat Who… series book. Somehow shortly after this my now husband and I got in the habit of reading the entire Cat Who … series of books to each other. After reading Cat on a Leopard Spot, I decided to buy a couple of more in the series because I enjoyed them so much. Then after a while I was on a decluttering kick and decided to give those books to the local library. A few years ago, I regretted my decision. I was missing my “friend” Midnight Louis and wanted to read those books again. Unfortunately, by then, many of the early books were out of print. I ended up tracking down used copies of the first half of the series in various used book outlets online (many at Better World Books). Cat in a Golden Garland was one of them. Using a gift card, I have since acquired the rest in the series that have been published in paperback. So, was it worth it? Yes. I still enjoy reading the adventures of Temple Barr and Midnight Louis. I’m looking forward to reading the rest in the series.

Tarzan and “The Foreign Legion” by Edgar Rice Burroughs
I decided to take a break from the Midnight Louis series for a while to read some other books on my bookshelf. The reason for this? I have to make room on my bookshelf for all of the newly acquired Midnight Louis books. So, I decided to start reading some of the books that I’m least likely to hang on to once they’ve been read. This is one of them. I know what you’re probably thinking “Really!!? Tarzan!!? How did this end up on her bookshelf?” There is a story behind this. When I was growing up my father mentioned that he used to read Tarzan books when he was younger. One time when I was in the local library I noticed that someone donated a nearly complete set of Tarzan books to the ongoing book sale. Since they were only 10 cents per book, I bought every one they had. I brought them home to show my Dad. He then told me that he used to read the Tarzan COMIC books, not the novels. And, he had no interest in reading the novels at all. So, I was stuck with a near complete set of Tarzan books. Ok, I could’ve donated them back to the library book sale, but I didn’t. Over the years I’ve tried to read at least one a year or one every couple of years (there were about 20 of them) then pass them on to the local library for their book sale. I still had 2 to go if you include this one. Although these books are not exactly something I’d normally pick up for myself at the library or bookstore, I still enjoy reading them, if only for the fact that they bring back cherished memories of my Dad and I watching old Tarzan movies with Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan (the best Tarzan ever in my opinion!) on Saturday mornings. If you too have memories like this, this particular book is worth reading if just for Chapter 7 alone. The story is riveting and at times gives one philosophical questions to ponder, especially about war and what it does to a person. A warning though. The language is definitely NOT politically correct. I think this particular book is worse than many of the others. But, if you can put it into perspective (it was written during World War II and published shortly thereafter), I would recommend reading it.

Tarzan and the Madman by Edgar Rice Burroughs
The last of the Tarzan books that I have. See note above on how and why I acquired these books. This story, written in 1941 but not published until 1964 (a forgotten manuscript found by Edgar Rice Burroughs’ son), is more of a traditional Tarzan story than the previous book that I read. Although the book was hard to put down, for me the story and characters were bland in comparison to those of the previously read title. All in all, though, I’m glad that I got a chance to read these books.

Cat in a Crimson Haze by Carole Nelson Douglas
This is actually a re-read. I had read the first four books in the Midnight Louis series some time ago. Then, as I said above, a couple of years ago I decided to pick up where I left off. Unfortunately, I had forgotten some of the background to some of the characters. Matt Devine in particular. Although I had told myself that I would go back and re-read this book to reacquaint myself, I never did until now. After I read Cat in a Golden Garland, the eighth book in the series. That book also dealt quite a bit with Matt Devine’s life — coming to terms with the past and looking forward to the future. Cat in a Crimson Haze reaquainted me with his past so that I can understand his character better as the series goes forward.

The Life and Legacy of Pope John Paul II by Wyatt North
Because it was Lent, I decided I was going to read one or more of the religious books that I had not yet read that were sitting on my bookshelf (virtual or otherwise). Earlier in the year, I downloaded this as a free e-book from Amazon because I’m interested in the life of Pope John Paul II. I still remember when he became Pope. There was much rejoicing in my family because he was the first Polish Pope. (I’m half Polish and half German, but I grew up with the Polish side of my family and I identify myself more with the Polish side.) So, from the beginning I had an interest in finding out more about him. I also like to read biographies. And, what with him becoming a saint on April 27th, that spurred me even more to read about him this Lent. This book presented snippets of his life. I learned a few things about him. Good and not so good. I would’ve liked a more in-depth treatment of some of the topics, but I can’t complain too much, since this book was free.

Crossing the Threshold of Hope by Pope John Paul II
I bought this book shortly after it came out in the mid-90s because my Aunt Frances recommended it to me. Clearly her reading level was at a much higher level than mine because when I first sat down to read it I got about 10 pages in and put it back on my bookshelf. It was just too difficult to understand. Too esoteric. So, it sat on my bookshelf for nearly 20 years before I again picked it up this Lent. Since I first bought this book I have gone through RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) and become a full member of the Catholic Church. I’ve been going to church weekly for the past 18 years or so, listening to the readings and the homilies that explain them. Has my perspective changed? Do I understand a bit more? Yes. But, this was still a very difficult read for me. And, much of it, I still don’t understand. The reading becomes easier after page 76 or so. Less esoteric and more practical. But throughout reading it I felt as though there should be a list in front of the book of all the writers, philosophers, theologians, etc. that one needs to be familiar with in order to fully understand what John Paul II is saying, because, frankly, I am not familiar with any one of them except, for some, in name only.

Cat on a Hyacinth Hunt by Carole Nelson Douglas
Back to reading the Midnight Louis series of books. After reading Crossing the Threshold of Hope I wanted to read something light. It was nice to get back to reading this series. This particular book, however, is more romance than mystery. But, only in a good way. It was sorely needed as a way to advance the character development. When I first picked up this book, I thought I was reading it for the first time, but as I got near the end, I started to remember some of the scenes in the book. So, this was a re-read for me. But, one that I’m glad I re-read. I enjoyed it very much.

Cat in an Indigo Mood by Carole Nelson Douglas
Another excellent book by Carole Nelson Douglas in the Midnight Louis series. This book dealt more with mystery than romance. It also dealt with some hefty real-life issues, but not in a way that burdens the reader.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Have you ever finished a book and then just sat there, staring into space, while saying “Wow!”? This is that sort of book for me. I’d also recommend having a tissue handy for the ending, but not for the obvious reasons. A week after finishing the book, I went to see the movie. Although the movie is excellent and stands on its own, I recommend reading the book first. It fills in some of the gaps, depth-wise, of the characters and situations.

The Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark
This is a re-read for me. I read this book in college. It has been on my bookshelf ever since. It’s one of those “ought to” books. Westerns are not my thing (unless it’s the old TV show The Young Riders. Thanks to Hulu for making all episodes available online!), so the only reason I think I kept it this long is because it’s a classic. “If I want to be intelligent (or seem intelligent) I should read/keep classics in my personal library” sort of thing. I’m trying to get out of this mindset and only keep the books on my bookshelf that I enjoy or books that speak to me in some way. So, in an effort to finally clear it out, I decided to read it once more and then donate it. I had forgotten that it has writing in it, so I may not be able to donate it. It may have to go to our bi-annual city-wide book recycling. The book itself ought to be read. It deals with some hefty moral issues. And, although it is set in 1885, there is some relevance to today too. Winder, the stagecoach driver talking about how the railroad took his (and many others’) job away. The railroad was progress, a technological breakthrough. Today other technological breakthroughs (progress!) also take people’s livelihoods away.

Cat in a Jeweled Jumpsuit by Carole Nelson Douglas
Another good book in the Midnight Louis series. This one, though, I read in short bursts rather than sitting for hours not wanting to put the book down. Why? Elvis overload! On the plus side, I was totally surprised by the ending.

If I Stay by Gayle Forman
This was a library e-book download. I saw a preview of the movie that was coming out in August and wanted to read the book. I was not, however, interested in seeing the movie. This book reads somewhat like The Fault in Our Stars in terms of voice. But, I guess that’s to be expected since in both cases the main character/narrator is a teenager. Although I liked The Fault in Our Stars better, I still found myself not being able to put this book down. But, the ending had me saying “What? That’s it?” rather than “Wow!”. The story itself is compelling, but I found the characters quite two-dimensional. Just names, really. Maybe that’s why I didn’t go through the emotional roller coaster like some readers did (judging from comments in various reviews). I don’t understand what all the hoopla is over this book. Guess it’s just not my type of book. I’m glad I chose to download it from the library rather than buy it.

A Shot in the Bark by C.A. Newsome
This was a free e-book that I got from Amazon.com. It started out promising, but the crude language turned me off. I also didn’t like that the story itself didn’t wrap itself up, especially since I will not be reading the next book in the series, if there is one.

Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local and Helped Save an American Town by Beth Macy
While I was working on doing research for my job I came across an interview about this book and was intrigued, so I checked out a copy at the library. It is a fascinating book, but depressing too as it chronicles the downfall of American manufacturing and the consequences. One has to give John Bassett III alot of credit for being tenacious and doing all he could do to save his factory, the jobs of his employees, and his community. Although much of it, in general, I knew, I also learned some things along the way. In my opinion, it’s a must-read for everyone in America; especially for those who think nothing of choosing (when there is a choice!) imported goods over American-made goods.

Starry Night by Debbie Macomber
A woman from the church I used to go to turned me on to Debbie Macomber books. She recommended Mrs. Miracle to me and let me borrow her copy of the book. After I read that, I immediately went to the library and checked out another of Mrs. Macomber’s books. One in the Blossom Street series. A few years back I also bought another of her books at a library book sale (which I later passed on). And, I’m a big fan of the Cedar Cove TV series on the Hallmark Channel (I rearrange my Saturday schedule so I don’t miss it each week), even though I’ve never read any of the books in the Cedar Cove series. Although I normally don’t like romances, I do like these romances because they’re romances with morals. A striking contrast to the romance that was a part of A Shot in the Bark mentioned above. Starry Night will move you and melt your heart!

Somewhere Safe with Someone Good by Jan Karon
I’ve been a fan of the Mitford Series of books for many years. I picked up a copy of one of the books at a local bookstore and I was hooked. Since that was a book in the middle of the series, I went out and bought all the preceding books to catch up with the cast of characters. I was so disappointed that Ms. Karon decided to end the series years ago. I bought both books in the Father Tim series, which was a sort of replacement/continuation of the Mitford series, but I didn’t like them as well. I was eagerly anticipating this book, the 10th in the Mitford Series, ever since it was announced. I bought it on the first day that it came out. And, to tell you the truth, reading this book felt like coming home after a long trip away. “That was his favorite thing about books—they took you off to other people’s lives an’ places, but you could still set in your own chair by th’ oil heater, warm as a mouse in a churn.” This is my favorite quote in the book. I highly recommend setting in your favorite chair by the heater, opening your heart and getting reaquainted (or acquainted) with the people of Mitford. Although it’s not absolutely necessary to read the first 9 books in the Mitford Series and the two Father Tim books first, I think it’s a much more enjoyable read if you do. In fact, I wish I had re-read all those previous books before reading this one to fill in some of the details that I had forgotten over the years.

The Complete Peanuts 1991 to 1992 by Charles Schulz
The Complete Peanuts 1993 to 1994 by Charles Schulz
Bought as a gift box set to add to my collection. There’s not much to say, except that I thoroughly enjoyed these books as much as the previous editions in this series. An interesting observation: as much as Charlie Brown (and us fans) lament his unrequited love of the little red-haired girl, it’s not like he doesn’t have other girls who do love him. Three in fact, in these volumes. But, as in life, the heart wants what the heart wants. Even if it can’t have it. Personally, I think he should give Peppermint Patty or Marcie a chance…

The Origin of the Species by Charles Darwin
I bought this book years ago because what with the still-controversial topic of evolution vs. creationism coming up now and again, I thought I should actually read the book that everyone refers to in the conversation to get a feel for what Darwin actually said, rather than go on hearsay and what people think he said to either support or refute evolution. It took me about four months to plod through this book. Trying to read through this confirmed one thing: I’m not scientifically-minded. Most of what I read, I don’t understand. When I did understand something, I thought: “This book could’ve been condensed to one or two chapters.” On the other hand, I would’ve liked more concrete examples of what he was talking about. Maybe then I would’ve understood more. But, then again, this is just an abstract… albeit a 400 page abstract…. Did I waste my time reading this? That, I don’t know. I’m passing this along to my husband. Perhaps after he reads it, he could translate it for me. He understands more about such things than I do.

One thing for sure. The next book I read will be something light and enjoyable.

The Dalai Lama’s Cat by David Michie
This book was a birthday gift from my mother-in-law. Basically, it’s a lesson in practical Buddhism as seen through the eyes of the Dalai Lama’s cat; a cat who met with some unfortunate circumstances early in life, but who was saved thanks to the Dalai Lama. This was definitely light reading. At times, it seemed kind of childish in its language; something more suited to a children’s book. However, that doesn’t discount the teachings in the book. Chapter 7 is one that speaks to me in particular. Chapter 10 reminded me of a segment of my life 14 years ago. Perhaps, dear reader (as Snow Lion likes to say), you will find this book helpful in your life as well. Although I didn’t think it was all that well written and as a result didn’t like it as much as other books I’ve read, I still think it’s worth a read.

This wraps up the books I’ve read in 2014. I may pick up another book between now and January 1st, but I probably won’t finish it before the new year so my comments about it will be reserved for my Year 2015 Reflections post, if I publish one.

My resolution for next year is to rid myself of all of the “ought to” books (see comments above), keeping only those books that I enjoyed reading and would read again and those that spoke to me in some way. Gifts are another story. I still believe that, in deference to the giver, I should keep them even if otherwise I would’ve passed those along to the library book sale in other circumstances.

Wishing all my readers a happy holiday season and a new year filled with health, happiness and many blessings!

Bay View Park, Alpena
The latest installment of my Travelogue is up, for those of my readers who are fans. Please click the link on my Travelogue page. The picture here is my favorite of the bunch. It was taken at Bay View Park in Alpena. Enjoy!

Resolutions Revisited

Another new year is fast approaching and like many of you my thoughts turn to resolutions for that new year. Except my resolution for the new year is to continue with the resolutions I set back in 2012. Back in 2012 I made four resolutions:

1. Relearn to crochet
2. Start and finish sewing projects
3. Read all the unread books on my bookshelf
4. Start writing again

So, two years later, how am I doing with my resolutions?

1. Relearn to crochet. As you saw from my post, “One Down”, back in July of this year I completed my first new crochet project in years: a lap blanket. It “only” took me a year and a half to complete!

The next two crochet projects on my “To Do” list include a cover for my Kindle and kitchen towel toppers. Thanks to my cousin Nancy for passing along a crochet pattern book that includes the pattern for those towel toppers!

2. Start and finish sewing projects. Technically, this cross-stitch project (below) was lumped in as a sewing project, even though it’s not what one normally thinks of as sewing. Although… it does use a needle and thread!

Old Presque Isle Lighthouse Cross-stitch
This has since been framed and is waiting to be hung in our downstairs bathroom once the renovations are complete. If you’d like to see pictures of the real Old Presque Isle Lighthouse, visit my 2009 travelogue post here.

My future sewing project list includes slipcovers for the cushions on my rocking chair in the living room, a pillow for when I do yoga (if I lie on the ground without my head raised, I get very dizzy), and a book cover (yes, even though I have a Kindle, I love to read paper books too!).

3. Read all the unread books on my bookshelf. Hmm… Well… 2013 didn’t seem to be a good year for this. Judging from my reading list here, I seem to have read more newly-acquired books than books that were already on my bookshelf. I’ll try to do better in 2014.

4. Start writing again. As any of my regular readers know, this one slipped right through the cracks in 2013. My last post was in July 2013 (and even before that, my posts were sporadic). In mid-July 2013 I was appointed to Chair the Welcome Committee for our homeowners association. I assumed the role after the previous Chair could no longer fulfill her term due to personal issues. I had no idea that, even with a volunteer helping sometimes, I would spend so much time on this endeavor. As a result, my spare time has been greatly reduced and so has the time I have to spend reading, contemplating, and writing about my thoughts. Although I am happy that the Board had the confidence in me to do this job and I am pleased that I was able to organize and bring up to date some aspects of the administrative end of this job in such a short period of time, I do miss having the time to write. Perhaps when my term expires in 2016, that pull to have the time to read, contemplate, and write will be stronger and I will pass the baton on to the next Welcome Chair knowing that I have hopefully made a positive difference in the neighborhood during my tenure and that I have left my successor with more efficient systems to do his or her job going forward.

A Common Language

Image

“Like music and art, love of nature is a common language that can transcend political or social boundaries.” — Jimmy Carter

Photo by Joyce Simkin, Along the trails at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens, Ann Arbor, Michigan, July 6, 2013.

One Down

Joyce's Crocheted Blanket 2013

One of my 2012 New Year’s resolutions was to re-learn to crochet. One of my on-going resolutions is to declutter. Combining the two when faced with a skein of yarn I didn’t know what to do with, I decided to crochet a blanket (fully aware that I would have to buy more skeins of yarn… one skein turned into four). The result is the lap blanket you see to the right. And, some left-over yarn that I will probably end up donating to the Arts & Scraps organization.

One project down, many more to go. Perhaps my next creative endeavor will be a cross-stitch project I bought a couple of years ago in Alpena, Michigan.

Note: click on the picture if you want to see more detail.

27c

I watched with reverence and fear. In that instant I was convinced that Jacobo Belbo was right. What he told me about the Pendulum I had attributed to esthetic raving, to the shapeless cancer taking gradual shape in his soul, transforming the game into reality without his realizing it. But if he was right about the Pendulum, perhaps all the rest was true as well: the Plan, the Universal Plot. And in that case I had been right to come here, on the eve of the summer solstice.

This quote is from Umberto Eco’s book Foucault’s Pendulum. Interesting that I too, this year, came to Foucault’s Pendulum on the eve of the summer solstice. No light summer reading for me this year… I’ll be curled up with Umberto Eco’s book and a dictionary.

The picture above is from our trip to the Besser Museum in Alpena in June 2012. They have a Foucault Pendulum in the basement.

The blog post I wrote yesterday, and posted earlier today, can, in a way, be summed up by this quote that appeared on my calendar today:

Recognizing and confronting our history is important. Transcending our history is essential. We are not limited by what we have done, or what we have left undone. We are limited only by what we are willing to do.
— George W. Bush

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